Turns out Notre Dame has found itself a truly unique defensive coordinator. Greg Hudson, who inherited the post last week, not only has nine seasons of experience as an FBS defensive coordinator, but he can also do party tricks.
“He’s jumping out of the cake at birthday parties,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly joked this week when asked about some of Hudson’s intangible assets.
Hudson probably isn’t ready to dim the lights, light a giant sparkler on his head and pop out of one of those giant cakes any time soon, but he’s doing his best to bring a new vibe to the defensive side of the ball since Kelly fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder after Notre Dame’s 38-35 home loss to Duke on Sept. 24.
Kelly’s desire to find someone who could bring that new vibe he was looking for defensively took him straight to Hudson, and he didn’t have to look far to find him.
Hudson’s last stint as a defensive coordinator was at Purdue. He and offensive coordinator John Shoop were both let go a day after the Boilermakers’ season-ending 54-36 home loss to arch rival Indiana (a move made by head coach Darrell Hazell to save a job that could be gone after this season anyway).
It didn’t take long for Hudson to return to his roots. The Notre Dame alum made the roughly 2.5 hour drive from West Lafayette, Ind. to South Bend this past spring as a guest of Kelly during Notre Dame’s spring practice.
Kelly took a liking to Hudson during their time together and Hudson had no desire to leave even after Notre Dame’s spring game was over. Kelly then extended the offer to the 49-year-old veteran assistant to stay with the Fighting Irish staff as a defensive analyst.
“I was able to see him and observe his work and felt like he brought the right approach to the defense and he was the perfect fit,” Kelly said.
Since VanGorder’s dismissal, Kelly has steadfastly indicated the defense will be more in his comfort zone than the man-to-man, multiple formation “think-heavy” scheme that Irish players were never able to fully grasp over the past two-plus seasons.
It was simply time to simplify.
In the first post-VanGorder week of practice alone, the Irish went from 142 defensive practice reps leading up to the Duke game to just 56 such reps before last week’s Syracuse game.
Under VanGorder, the Irish employed a four-down front that had what Kelly termed “three-down principles”. It was the opposite of the defense Kelly and then defensive coordinator Bob Diaco had used to start Kelly’s Notre Dame tenure.
Notre Dame went back to the three-down approach last week. It didn’t have immediate results (see the 27 points Syracuse scored in the first 30 minutes), but it worked in the long run (see the six points the Orange scored in the second half).
It’s a different look than teams have seen from Notre Dame in recent seasons and it also keeps players fresh in the second half.
“It’s two-fold,” Kelly said of the strategic shift. “It gets more guys on the field that I want to see out there than can help us win and it’s a structure that I like in certain situations.”
Kelly, who like Hudson was a college linebacker, is far more involved with defensive strategy now than he’s been in quite some time, while Hudson is the defense’s main “enthusiasm and passion” coach.
Jumping out of cakes is optional.